Monday, November 19, 2007

Newsweek & Most Media Embraces Karl Rove, After TIME Takes a Pass

At Radar Online, Charles Kaiser writes:

When Newsweek made Karl Rove one of its columnists last week (along with Markos (Daily Kos) Moulitsas for balance), there was one big question: Could the number of new readers attracted by this fancy new hire possibly exceed the hordes of freshly canceled subscriptions?
The early betting was heavily against any circulation increase. And the odds didn't get better with Rove's first column. His biggest scoop was about the "full-length vanity mirror" found in the West Wing office he inherited from Hillary—and the fact that she had denied putting the mirror there (twice). This, you see, is Rove's idea of "a small but telling story: She is tough, persistent, and forgets nothing." Rove's hiring (which the New York Times didn't even bother to report) makes him the latest in a long and distinguished line of politicos turned pundits who owe their big journalism careers almost entirely to the flowery rhetoric of Spiro T. Agnew.

For latecomers to this never-ending melodrama, Agnew was Richard Nixon's first vice president—the one whose main qualification for the job was this: "No assassin in his right mind would kill me,'' Nixon explained. ''They know if they did that they would wind up with Agnew!" Once Agnew started his blistering attacks on the commie-pinko-liberal press, he became a celebrity in his own right. He called reporters "an effete corps of impudent snobs" and television commentators ''a tiny fraternity of privileged men elected by no one and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by the government.''

Since almost all of these haikus were written by conservative White House speechwriters Bill Safire and Pat Buchanan, it was only fitting that they would be among the first to benefit from them.

After a brief push back from shocked newspaper big shots, opposition to Agnew's slanted-media thesis crumbled. In 1973, Nixon alum Bill Safire landed on the op-ed page of the New York Times. (Agnew was actually forced to resign later that same year, after being caught up in a kickback scandal that dated from his tenure as governor of Maryland, but conservatives have continued their nonstop anti-press campaign ever since.) Around the same time, George Will began appearing more regularly in the Washington Post (while still moonlighting as a speechwriter for Jesse Helms). And then came the ubiquitous Pat Buchanan.

The success of Safire, Will, and Buchanan is a good barometer of just how far right you can go in Washington and still remain an honored member of the old boys' club. In his new book about the 1960s, Tom Brokaw explains that Buchanan's "good humor" has made him "enduringly popular even with liberal observers."

That's the genius of Washington—just because you've written that Adolf Hitler was "an individual of great courage" (Google "anti-Semitism of Pat Buchanan" and you get 231,000 hits), dismissed the idea that "white rule of a black majority is inherently wrong" in South Africa, or shown your lavender-friendly side by pointing out that "homosexuality involves sexual acts most men consider not only immoral, but filthy," none of that will prevent you from continuing as a regular on Meet the Press. (And you're surprised that Tim Russert was never offended by Imus?)

For its part, Time magazine said nothing publicly about Rove's arrival at Newsweek, but a well-placed source told me that Bob Barnett (every Washington literati's favorite lawyer, including Bill Clinton) had traveled to the Time-Life building on Sixth Avenue to offer Rove's services before Newsweek snared them. Time's editors apparently felt the cost/benefit analysis wouldn't be in their favor if they embraced the man who has done more than anyone to keep the spirit of Joe McCarthy alive and well in American politics. (Read Joshua Green's definitive profile from the Atlantic in 2004.) "Time thought this wouldn't be like hiring George Stephanopoulos," my source explained. "They think Karl is essentially like an unindicted coconspirator in a whole string of felonies."

Besides the obvious shock value, there was another reason Rove's arrival in the fourth estate was inevitable. In public, Rove is one of dozens of conservatives who assiduously bash the press. Last summer, channeling Agnew, Rove told Rush Limbaugh that "the people I see criticizing [Bush] are sort of elite effete snobs." But at the same time, Rove was constantly massaging big-time Washington journalists over long lunches at the Hay Adams Hotel.

The result of this continuous media handling was a mostly kid-glove treatment of Rove by great Washington political reporters like Anne Kornblut. The day after Rove dodged an indictment by the special prosecutor, this is how Kornblut appraised him in the New York Times: "a cheerful, sharp-witted operative fond of sparring with reporters off the record." It's that kind of hard-hitting approach that got Kornblut stolen away by the Washington Post—but also makes it possible for Jon Stewart to provide an essential reality check on our nation's capital. At the moment, the Daily Show is condemned to reruns for the length of the writers' strike, but last week there was a magnificent moment of serendipity. The same day Newsweek announced its new hire, the show rebroadcast a feature on Rove from the week after he left the White House.

"Washington was very shaken last week," Stewart intoned, "with news that Karl Rove, whose bountiful advisory teats had fed so many Beltway insiders for lo these six and a half years, was capping the spigot and moving on." Then Chris Wallace was shown offering up a list of "Karl Rove's greatest hits." Cut to Stewart:

"I just bought those: John McCain's black baby; Max Cleland, the one-limb pussy; The Queers are coming!; and, of course, Schiavo-a-go-go. No need to call now—your phones have already been tapped.